Highlife is one of the classic 20th-century West African pop music genres, a style sometimes hard to define precisely since it encompasses such diversity. Originally a 1920s blend of homegrown rural rhythms and Western colonial military music sprinkled with miscellaneous Caribbean and ballroom jazz influences, highlife gradually evolved to become the dominant dance music of Ghana and Nigeria during the 1950s and '60s, and it enjoyed a major revival in the 80s in a leaner, more streamlined form. Nowadays it survives as a hardy perennial. Dan Boadi & Ghanatta are a genuinely- exciting highlife band based right here in Chicago, and it's important to note that they're the real thing, not a bunch of smarty-pants ersatz "world music" noids. All but two members of the ensemble grew up in Ghana, with this music percolating in the air all around them and inside them; they know what it's reaIly supposed to sound like. Just the other night I watched Ghanatta work a crowd masterfully--turning up the heat to get everybody on their feet, cutting abruptly to a percussion break, and then exploding into vocal chants that sounded an awful lot like the Yoruba santeria singing popular in Cuba and Purto Rico. That's no coincidence, of course; santeria music draws on many of the West African traditions that lie at the very roots of highlife. Saturday, Wild Hare, 3530 N. Clark; Next Saturday, April 30, 9:30 PM, Annual May Day Blast, Salsedo Press., 320 N. Damen; 666-1674.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Marc PoKempner.